Discerning a High Quality Tea

Tea grading 

The last step of tea processing is sorting and grading. When the tea leaves are dried, they are sorted by equipments that are able to sort according to the various sizes of tea leaves. This first stage of professional grading is often not based on the taste and inner quality, but based on the outer appearance and characters (color, shape, size etc). There is however a strong correlation between the tea inner quality and their general characteristics. Teas of top quality will guarantee to have the right outer characteristics.

Teas sorting process roughly divides teas into two major groups: leaf tea and broken tea. There are also fanning and dust tea after and they are often used to fill tea bags. Sorting is a very important stage of tea making. Various size tea leaves produce teas of very different concentration, continuity, color and taste. The bigger the tea leaves are, the longer it takes to brew.

Signs of high quality

Whilst different teas vary in their appearance and taste there are some basics that are indicative of high quality:

1. Appearance:

Tea leaves should be freshly glossy with full bodies. Leaves should be equal in size. (Please expand the photos in our shop to look for these characteristics and compare against other suppliers).

Tea liquid should be bright and clear. (There are some teas, such as certain green teas and white teas, that are made of very young tip tea leaves that are covered with white fur on the back. This could result in the white fur resolving in the tea liquid during the tea brewing to produce an opaque appearance. This should be distinguished from the tea liquid be cloudy which is sign of stale tea.)

2. Smell:

Fresh and fragrant.

3. Taste:

Unlike most other beverages, the magic flavor of tea is often in its aftertaste. Words used to describe this include: lingering, refreshing, smooth, aromatic etc.
Premium quality green teas sometimes can taste slightly bitter at the beginning, followed immediately by a beautifully refreshing, mellow taste that lingers for long time.  A clear mind and calm body are also associated with drinking a quality tea.

Signs of bad quality

In contrast, teas of bad quality are often dark and dull in color, leaves in various sizes with plenty of dust, moldy in smell and tea liquid cloudy. Tea tastes rough and bitter and lack refreshing aftertaste. Novice tea drinkers take some time to appreciate the quality differentials (similar to wine tasting). However, with experience comes the issue that  "once you have tasted and appreciated good quality tea, the memory of this makes it easier to discern lower quality - and harder to be satisfied with it'’.